The Precor 221 Energy Series Elliptical Cross Trainer is the first in a range of commercial quality ellipticals that offers a range of challenging workout programs and innovative training features, including CrossRamp and SmartRate.
In our review we take an in-depth look at these design features, together with the workout programs and console technology. This is to help you decide if the Precor 221 is the best elliptical machine for your own home gym.
If you’re considering buying a new elliptical trainer, the light commercial class of Energy Series models by Precor is certainly worth a look.
Although there are 4 models to choose from, including the Precor 221, 222, 225, and 245, this review will focus on the 221 model.
Because this represents the lowest priced elliptical in the collection, you don’t quite get all the features you do with the higher priced models. But you do get an impressive collection of unique features.
The most obvious difference between the 221 and the other Energy Series ellipticals is the lack of moving handles. This will inevitably have an impact on the level of upper body training that you can incorporate in your workouts, but still provides the same highly effective workout for your lower body muscle groups.
The smaller set of stationary handles also shows some difference between the two models, with the Precor 221 providing you with many more options when it comes to choosing your grip position.
In terms of the actual running motion, all of the Energy Series ellipticals are what’s known as ‘rear-driven’, which basically means that the flywheel is at the back of the frame.
This usually restricts you to a smoother gliding motion that takes more of the work away from your quads than the front-driven machines, but fortunately this isn’t the case here.
That’s because Precor use a technology known as CrossRamp, to create varying levels of incline for better isolation of specific muscle groups – like your quads.
Precor’s patented elliptical path also perfectly mimics a natural running stride, allowing you to keep your heels down through all ranges of motion for a more comfortable, effective and ergonomically correct workout.
Stability and transport
Together with CrossRamp (which we’ll look at in more detail later in our review), another of the more unique features that Precor have added to their Energy Series of ellipticals is base levellers.
In place of the more conventional front base stabilizer, Precor have created 3 carefully positioned ‘contact points’, where base levellers are between the frame and the floor.
Unfortunately this has resulted in a lack of transport wheels, but it does help to maintain frame stability. They also do an excellent job of evenly distributing the weight, which is one of the reasons behind the impressive 350 lb limit.
Precor 221 – Features Summary
- Precor Cross Ramp technology adjusts the shape of the elliptical path your feet travel so you can target specific muscles
- 10 preset workouts help you stay challenged
- Built-in Work Out Accelerators suggest ways to get more out of your workout
- Use the console’s headphone jack and on-screen volume control to safely & securely listen to music from your own player
- CrossRamp Movement: Manual 3-position
- CrossRamp Elevation Range: 15°, 20°, 25°
- Heart Rate Monitoring: Touch sensor and wireless with any Polar compatible chest strap transmitter
- User IDs: 2
- Resistance System: Magnetic
- Resistance Levels: 16
- Console Display: 5-inch high contrast LCD
- CrossRamp & Resistance Controls: Tap style Dome Keys
No matter the size or price point, it’s always important to make sure the equipment you buy is safe, both in use and when it’s stationary.
Innovative safety features are nothing new for Precor, who introduced a password to the display console of their 9.3x series of treadmills.
This password meant that the running belt would be disabled until it was entered, which certainly seems useful, particularly if you have small children in your home.
However, there were a few issues with this, the most common of which was the password being forgotten and questions having to be asked on help forums about how to reset it.
Rather than relying solely on an electronic method, Precor have now included a much simpler locking pin design, which prevents the foot pedals from moving while it’s in place.
The pin itself is positioned just underneath the back of the foot pedal, and attached to a short lanyard to prevent any danger of the pin being misplaced. There’s also a storage slot under the ramp to keep it out of the way while you workout.
The password option is still actually available, which you’ll come across when you first turn on the console. This is referred to in the user manual as the ‘Safety Code’, and simply allows you to define a sequence of keys that needs to be pressed in order to get gain access to the other console functions. (This isn’t required and is disabled by default)
This is really all you need in terms of safety, and is a feature that you won’t find on many other ellipticals. There’s no need for any emergency stop buttons or safety key like you find on treadmills, as the movement of the pedals is completely powered by your own motion.
Precor CrossRamp Technology
CrossRamp is a technology used by Precor to create variable incline levels for more precise isolation of individual muscle groups, as well as to adjust the intensity of your current workout.
If you’re wondering what the differences are between the Precor 221 and one of their Energy Series ellipticals in the 400 range, the number of CrossRamp incline settings is going to be one of them.
Whereas the 400-series models offer you 20 different level changes, the 200-series models are limited to just 8.
YouTube video showing the Energy and Precision collections:
This doesn’t necessarily impact the quality of your workout if you opt for a 200-series model though, as they both have the same maximum incline setting – it’s just the 400-series ellipticals allow changes in smaller increments.
The Precor 221 provides the following 3 levels of manual elevation; 15 degrees, 20 degrees, and 25 degrees.
By including these incline settings in your own workouts, you’ll be able to better target specific muscle groups, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, compared to standard single level machines.
Display console design
One of the features that doesn’t actually change a great deal between Precor’s Energy Series ellipticals is the design of the display console. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The team at Precor have clearly spent a lot of time putting together designs for a console that keeps all of your information clearly displayed, while also making the various functions easy to use.
Firstly, you have the choice of colour scheme. The white and light blue contrasts extremely well against the black, making the information easy to read – even in low light conditions.
Despite having 8 separate screens to monitor, because of the way they’re positioned and the way the information has been grouped, it’s actually very intuitive.
Your time, calories burned, rate of calorie expenditure, and heart rate are all displayed along the top bar, with distance, strides per minute, and average strides per minute shown via the lower display bar.
Between the two you have a large screen dedicated to showing the profile of your current workout, including the segment you’re currently at.
Above the matrix you also have a clear indication of the workout program you’re using, together with a profile overview to show what to expect.
Having this information grouped so closely together allows you to make much quicker decisions over which workout to choose to help you achieve your fitness goals.
The screens on either side of this are used to show which user profile you are currently using (if any), and your current heart rate intensity zone according to SmartRate.
In keeping with the minimalistic design, there are very few buttons on the console.
Although we would have liked to see a few quick-select resistance options, it still doesn’t take long to move between the 16 different resistance levels.
The buttons that you do have are all self explanatory, helping to cut down on the learning process and letting you jump straight into your first workout.
You can even connect your MP3 player, tablet, or smartphone to the console via the access cover on the back of the console. The cable to connect the two threads directly through the reading tray, so there’s no danger of any wires getting caught in moving parts.
User profiles and SmartRate Heart Rate Tracking
For any cardio machine to provide accurate feedback on stats such as calories burned and heart rate, you need to input some basic personal information (weight and age).
To save you having to do this each time you turn on the machine, the Precor 221 provides you with two different user profiles.
This allows you to store the information for two different people, letting you quickly choose between users at the push of a button (user keys).
While its main function is to provide you with more accurate feedback, some ellipticals also allow you to create workouts that are customised for specific users.
Unfortunately this isn’t a feature that the 221 model offers. If custom workout programs is a feature that’s important to you, it might also be worth taking a look at the Schwinn 470.
After saving your user profile information, you can then take advantage of Precor’s SmartRate heartbeat indicator scale.
This does require you to be holding the heart rate sensors or wearing a chest belt transmitter (telemetry), but provides a clear visual indication of what type of results you can expect from your workout.
Depending on your current heart rate, this could show as Warm Up, Fat Burn, Cardio, or High. If you’re using one of the Heart Rate Control workout programs, the resistance will automatically adjust to ensure your heart rate stays at one of these target levels.
When we were reading through the owner’s manual we also came across the formula that Precor recommends for calculating your heart rate. Whereas older user manuals usually suggest 220 – your age, it’s nice to see that Precor has opted for the formula from the American College of Sports Medicine, which is 207 – (your age x 0.67).
It’s just a small point, but it’s subtle differences like these that really show how much a company cares about providing high quality, accurate workout equipment.
Preset workout programs
As with weight training, if you consistently perform the same cardio workout as part of your fitness routine, you body will start to adapt to the motions.
That’s why, in the same way that people who train with weights vary their exercises and repetition ranges, you also need to regularly change your cardio routine to prevent muscle adaptation. This will also help prevent plateaus.
This is one of the reasons behind Precor’s decision to program 10 different workouts into the console of the 221 elliptical, which includes everything from interval training to Heart Rate Controlled (HRC).
- Interval (x2)
The Precor 221 gives you two options when it comes to interval training; one that has alternating rest and work periods of 2 minutes each, and the other which has a work periods of 4 minutes and rest periods of 2 minutes. You can also adjust the incline and resistance at any point during the workout to decrease or increase the intensity.
- Weight Loss
The only program out of the 10 to be designed around a fixed duration (28 minutes).
Similar to the programs we just mentioned, Weight Loss switches between 4 minute work and rest intervals in an effort to keep your heart rate within the optimum range of 50% to 70%.
- Heart Rate Control
This program is designed to automatically adjust the resistance in an effort to keep your heart rate at a specific level. The target heart rate defaults to 70% of your maximum according to the recommended formula of 207 – (0.67 x age).
- Hill Climb
Resistance level automatically adjusts to recreate the feeling of climbing uphill. This is the only program to take advantage of the bi-directional foot pedal movement, prompting you to reverse your stride direction as your workout hits 25%, 50%, and 75% of its duration.
You can also choose from 5 other workouts, which includes Cross Country, Gluteal, Aerobic, Crosstrainer, and Manual.
Each program has been custom designed with a specific fitness goal in mind. This can be anything from improving hip and spine stabilization (Gluteal) to improving lower body strength (Interval 1-2).
Ease of assembly
Due to the fact that the main frame design for the ellipticals in the Energy Series is similar across each model, Precor have decided to include the assembly instructions for the EFX 221, EFX 222, EFX 225, and EFX 245 ellipticals in the same manual.
We’ve seen this done in the past with some of the Horizon Fitness ellipticals, and it’s actually been done in a way that simplifies the setup.
The main difference is of course the moveable arms, but this step fits on just one page, which has been clearly labelled as not being applicable to the Precor 221.
To cut down on the amount of assembly required, Precor assemble the ramp, base frame, and flywheel casing at the factory. This gives you a stable base on which to attach the remaining parts, and makes it much easier to complete the remaining steps without the need for assistance.
All you really need to do is attach the left and right stabilizers, as well as the console bracket and console.
With the machine levelled and the ramp at your desired setting, you’re then ready to enjoy your first workout.
Due to the weight of this machine (193 lbs), you may find it easier if someone else is on-hand to assist you with moving the parts to where you want it setup.
But with the quality of the assembly instructions and diagrams, and the minimal amount of assembly required, the whole process shouldn’t take much longer than 45 minutes.
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame and welds: Lifetime
- Parts and wear items: 5 years
- Console: 3 years
- Labor: 1 year
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that – like most fitness companies – Precor only uphold these warranties if the elliptical is still with the original purchaser.
You’ll also need to have some record that the machine has been serviced by a Precor Authorized Service Provider.